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The Web site law.com is a $20 million question.

That's what New York investment banker Wasserstein Perella & Co. has sunk into the San Francisco-based spinoff of New York-based American Lawyer Media, which Wasserstein bought from Time Warner in 1997.

The site is intended to be a "cradle to grave" destination for attorneys, said Anup Bagaria, a Wasserstein Perella VP. "We want them to check in every day, even several times a day," Mr. Bagaria said.

It's also an amalgamation of three companies' content--Law.com Inc., American Lawyer Media and Law Stuff--intended almost exclusively for legal professionals. The point: Even if you don't have the ability to put up strong business-to-business content on your site, at least enter into a partnership with a company that does, to give your users that added value.

The site is well on its way to succeeding. After only three months in its present form, it's generating 5 million page views a month, and that total is growing 20% a month, said Todd Aaron, law.com's chief strategy officer.

Shared information

Despite having been spun off from American Lawyer Media, law.com will preserve the relationship through a contract for exclusive online rights to American Lawyer Media's editorial product.

"The cornerstone of our content policy going forward is to continue to expand it as ALM expands their coverage," Mr. Aaron said. "Additionally, because we are an independent entity and we're not owned by ALM, we also intend to go out and look elsewhere for high-quality content, and partner with people who can provide us with that kind of content-specific practice areas ALM does not cover that much."

William Pollak, president-CEO of American Lawyer Media, said the content deal "allows us to focus on what we think we do best, which is content development, and allows other people--in this case, law.com--to do what we think they do best: the marketing and distribution of an Internet site."

An established old-media company, American Lawyer Media, at 900 employees and $121.5 million in 1998 revenue, was at a crossroads last year in its Web strategy, Mr. Pollak said.

"We were going to divert a lot of time and attention and resources to build our own Internet site," he said. "But it just made a lot more sense for us to develop just the content than to get into the boxes and the wires and everything else."

The deal is for only one year, Mr. Pollak said, because "I guess you have to start somewhere, and it was hard for us, or anyone, to know where the Internet will go and how it will develop. It just made sense for us to stay flexible."

Mr. Bagaria said he's confident the contract will be extended. "That agreement is extremely, extremely valuable," he said.

American Lawyer Media's content was directed at law firms and corporate counsels, Mr. Pollak said, while the original law.com's content was more consumer-driven. Both companies are now developing law-oriented content for "non-lawyer business professionals," he said.

Judging by revenue

Wasserstein had bought the rights to the law.com name by buying the original, Phoenix-based law.com, which was positioning itself as a legal portal, directing attorneys to other sites.

At the same time, Mr. Aaron said, Wasserstein bought Chicago-based Law Stuff, which was operating lawstuff.com, selling legal texts and study guides to students, and legal texts and software to legal professionals. That site has now been folded into law.com as lawstuffusa.com.

"That's really the e-commerce part of this," Mr. Aaron said.

Mr. Bagaria said the success of law.com is being judged on a simple yardstick: revenue.

"There's no reason why this can't be a $500 million to $1 billion a year company some day," he said. "We're running at about $10 million a year right now, and we haven't started any kind of marketing campaign to draw people to it."

The university market

Banner advertising and, especially, e-retail for lawyers contribute to the site's revenue, Mr. Aaron said.

"We have a law student strategy, where we're partnering with 65 law schools around the country to build custom online bookstores," Mr. Aaron said. The law schools supply law.com with book lists for each course offering, and law.com supplies the books online.

"The universities are very receptive and the students are, too, because they don't have to go to the bookstore and lug all those books home," Mr. Aaron said.

The law.com site will also carry law-library books from a variety of publishers.

"Our intent is to build the premier destination on the Web for anything related to the law and lawyers," Mr. Aaron said.

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